One Night in June . . . Looking for the First Jazz Records in Scott Joplin’s Stomping Ground

It’s only been a little more than a year since Colin Hancock first wrote us up with a rough idea about reissuing the six personal records made by Gus Haenschen and his banjo orchestra in 1916. We’d already released one of them, “Sunset Medley,” on our 2003 issue, Stomp and Swerve—and we’re big fans. So, had Colin located the other five discs?

Well, not exactly.

He had a line on four of the six, thanks to David Sager and Mike Kieffer, with a strong likelihood of the fifth. When that fifth came through, from Rob Chalfen in Boston, we were all getting pretty excited. So close! There was one more, elusive, with rumors of it being in the collections of two mutual friends: “Maple Leaf Rag,” the legendary piece by Joplin, performed by one of his students while the master was still alive. Sager knew where to find it. He told us to go to Joplin’s one-time home, St. Louis, and there we would find it in the collection of the late St. Louis Ragtimer, the great Trebor Tichenor.

Trebor’s daughter Virginia and son-in-law Marty Eggers took David’s advice, went searching among his thousands of 78s and found it! Marty and Virginia, who are spending time between Oakland and St. Louis, graciously worked out a time for us all to meet, Colin drove up from Texas, and we were joined by the fantastic musician T. J. Müller to do a transfer session.

First things first. The night of June 4th, we went to the Tick Tock in St. Louis and were treated to an evening of ragtime and jazz by the Tick Tock Jazz Band, led by T. J. on trombone, and featuring Marty on piano, Virginia on drums, Colin on sax and clarinet, and two members of the St. Louis Ragtimers, Bill Mason on cornet (who played with Okeh Recording Artist Pete Patterson of Charlie Creath and Bennie Washington’s Bands), and Don Franz on bass sax (allegedly Adrian Rollini’s very own). The other surviving original member of the St. Louis Ragtimers, Al Stricker, was in attendance. Getting to hear the old guys and the new guys, passing the torch back and forth, was a remarkably moving experience. And the music was stellar.

Of course, torch passing is really at the heart of Gus’s personal records. We get to hear the sound of the master, Scott Joplin, lovingly being shaped into the music of the future by Gus Haenschen.

The morning of June 5th, we all met up at the Focal Point in Maplewood, a great performance space which T. J. had arranged for us. This allowed for spreading out the audio equipment, giving a quick wash to the Tichenor disc and a few other records, and then getting down to work doing transfers. But first Colin wanted to stage a quick shot of the “reunion” of the Haenschen discs. He had brought his copy of “Sunset Medley” and set it next to “Maple Leaf Rag” and snap!

The reunion: “Maple Leaf Rag” and “Sunset Medley” (photo by Colin Hancock)

We’re lucky “Maple Leaf Rag” survives at all, but it does show its age. There are some particularly rough spots in the last third of the disc, so just to be safe, we transferred it four or five times with different styli, hoping that the best one would make itself manifest during the restoration stage. Have a listen here. We think it turned out pretty well.

 

After a few hours of work, it was off to a brilliant Mexican lunch, arguing about restoration techniques, and then back to the Focal Point, where Colin would be doing a session of wax cylinder recordings of the singer Miss Jubilee with pianist Ethan Leinwand and the banjo and bones duet of Nick Pence and Ryan Koenig (a.k.a. Skin and Bones), playing “They Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dawg Aroun’.” The records came out great. It’s very interesting watching newbies get the hang of singing and playing directly into the persnickety horn! They all did a fine job.

And then, poof, we were done. Less than 20 hours after we arrived, we were gone again, with the seeds of one stunning CD compilation in our paws.

The Haenschen crew after a day of transfers and recording. Left to right: Marty, Meagan, Rich, and Colin. (photo by Colin Hancock)

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